Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-What's Your Sign

Even before she saw the rumpled bedclothes beside her, Teresa knew that Lawrence was already up and gone. A cold emptiness exuded from his side of the bed, one she felt sure had woken her from a rather pleasant dream.

"It's not a good sign," she thought, running her hands across the indentation in the sheets where his lean body should be sleeping peacefully. "Today of all days, he should be here." Although his intentions were magnanimous, allowing her to sleep while he dressed for early rounds at the hospital, she somehow felt cheated when he rose before her. Denied the opportunity for their customary good-bye, she was usually out of sorts for the rest of the day, and plagued with a niggling little fear that "something would happen" to him, and her last memory of him would be some trivial, nearly forgotten moment from the evening before.

Scooting over into the indentation left by her husband's body, Teresa curled herself into his space and buried her face in the pillow, inhaling the scent of his Prell shampoo and Irish Spring bath soap. She liked it when they started the day as a team - after all, as two Gemini's they were fated to work as a pair. The sign of the Twins, perfectly matched astrologically to one another. Teresa smiled, recalling that moment during their first meeting when she had posed the question which usually earned a derogatory chuckle.

"If you don't mind me asking," she had ventured, taking a sip of the rum and coke she had nursed throughout the evening, "what's your sign?"

Lawrence hadn't laughed, he had only raised his lovely thick eyebrows and regarded her thoughtfully for a moment. "Gemini," he answered. "June 12, 1978."

Teresa felt sure the whole room must have heard the bells that went off in her head at that moment, for here was the man she had been looking for her entire life. Perfect twins, they were, born on the same day. She had smiled at him, knowing that their fate was sealed.

Lost in this happy remembrance, she must have dozed off, and was startled to feel a warm hand cupped protectively around her belly.

"Happy birthday," Lawrence's deep voice whispered in her ear.

"Same to you," she answered sleepily, turning to wrap her arms around his neck. "Where were you, anyway?" she asked, still sulky that he had left her to waken alone.

"I went to get your present," he replied, dangling a thin plastic bag from Walgreen's in front of her face.

Teresa grinned and snatched the package from him. "I never thought I'd be this excited about a present from Walgreen's," she quipped. Tearing into the box, she removed the pencil shaped stick from it's container and headed toward the bathroom. Lawrence held up both hands, his fingers crossed hopefully.

"No need for superstition this time," she told him cheerily. "I'm already positive of the outcome. After all, aren't we the perfect pair?"

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-I Have A Secret

"Your secret is safe with me, " Damien reluctantly told his sister, reaching across the scarred wooden table of their favorite booth in Crandall's Pub. Her pale blue eyes, mirror images of his own, welled with tears as she smiled her gratitude.

"What would I do without you?" she asked.

Hopefully, you'll never have to know, he thought to himself. His thoughts wandered over all the times during their lives she had placed him in this position, entrusting him with some information about her life that must be kept secret. Perhaps it was all part and parcel of being a twin, sharing every aspect your siblings existence, knowing their personality inside and out. At times, the weight of all this knowledge weighed heavily on Damien's heart, making him feel too full, as if he had indulged in excessive amounts of rich food.

And yet, Damien thought, picking up the check for the beers they had downed during the telling of this latest tale, Denise knew so little about his life. He smiled ruefully to himself. He did have a secret or two of his own, after all. This first year of college life had provided several opportunities for some interesting personal encounters.

"Damien, are you listening?" Denise asked, as she shrugged her shoulders into the black leather jacket she had started wearing when he outgrew it during his senior year of high school. "I asked if you were going home for Christmas vacation this year."

"Most likely," he answered. "Aren't you?"

She just stared at him, her face clearly expressing disbelief that he would ask such a question. "After what I've just told you," she said, "how could you expect me to spend 10 days there? I was hoping you'd stay here with me," she continued. "I really don't want to be alone - especially now."

"Right," he replied absently. "I suppose I could stay," he went on, although even as he said it, he found himself wondering how to explain this to their mother, who looked forward to the Christmas holiday with childish anticipation.

"Good," she said, tucking her arm through his as they pushed through the pub door and into the frosty winter night. "You'll square it away with Mom then, won't you?"

Damien knew Denise took his acquiesence for granted, as she did his willingness to safeguard her confidences. His sister was one of those girls who managed to find trouble around every corner and set both feet squarely in it every time. From the moment they emerged from the womb, he had borne the burden of her neediness, hiding the evidence of her mistakes, taking the blame for her wrongdoing to protect her from their father's wrath.

Damien glanced at his sister, walking briskly beside him, a pleased smile playing across her lips.
As ususal, after unburdening herself of whatever secret was troubling her, she became relaxed and carefree. While Damien continued to stockpile these secrets of hers, allowing them to fester away inside him, unable to share them with anyone.

His eyes narrowed as he trudged along the dark pathway toward their dorm. Denise began whistling "Jingle Bells," her breath marking the rhythm in the frosty air. Perhaps, Damien thought, it was time to make some changes in their relationship.

"Guess what, twin sister," he thought, "I just might have a secret to share with you, too."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Eccentricity

Karen had never seen anything like it. Everything in the entire room was white - the trio of candlesticks on the white coffee table, the grand piano tucked in the alcove, the two high backed armchairs set at right angles in front of the white laminate wall unit, the plush carpeting, the smooth ceramic tile, all of it pristine, icy, perfectly white.

The slender elderly woman didn't so much walk as glide soundlessly toward Karen, her hand outstretched in greeting. Virtually indistinguishable from her surroundings, her perfectly coiffed platinum hair framing her patrician features, the warmth of her smile lent some relief to the starkness of their surroundings. "Sylvia Warner, " she said, her voice low pitched and elegant.
"I'm very pleased to meet you."

Karen blinked, pulling her eyes away from their amazed inventory of white furnishings. "Thank you," she said. "I'm looking forward to working with you." What an understatement, she thought. Karen had admired Sylvia Warner's poetry for years, and included it in every one of her poetry workshops. Being hired as her personal assistant was the opportunity of a lifetime. Surely just being in her presence would provide the inspiration she needed to revive her own creative process. Yet, how could a woman whose poetry was filled with colorful, evocative images, live in such colorless surroundings?

"Please, come in, sit down," Sylvia invited her. "When we spoke on the telephone the other day, we only touched briefly on the responsibilities of this position. I'd like to discuss in more detail..." Her voice trailed off as she noticed Karen's eyes wandering around the room. "It's quite different, I know," she said.

Karen quickly refocused her attention on the woman in front of her. "I'm so sorry," she stammered. "It's just that...well, I've never seen a room quite like this before."

"Yes, of course," Sylvia continued. "And I admit, it's rather eccentric of me." She sighed and pursed her lips, obviously wondering how much to reveal to this stranger sitting in front of her. Karen returned her gaze with what she hoped was polite interest.

"You see," Sylvia continued, "after my husband died, I just couldn't seem to bear the assault of color on my eyes. It was almost as if, without him, all the color had been drained from my life, and I wanted - no needed- my surroundings to reflect that."

"Yet, your poetry," Karen said, "it's so vibrant and full of - well, color!"

Sylvia smiled wanly. "It was," she said. "Lately, I have not been able to write in the same way at all." Her eyes, unnervingly blue in a face so pale, were suddenly awash with tears. "In all honesty," she said, "I find myself unable to write at all."

A chill ran down Karen's spine. Suddenly the pervasive lack of color seemed ominous to her, as if the oxygen had been removed from the room along with the pigment. There could be no revival of creative energy here, in this room devoid of color, devoid almost of life itself. She quickly rose to her feet. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Warner," she gasped. "I don't think this will work out after all."

The thin hand desperately gripped Karen's wrist. "Please," Sylvia whispered, "I am in need of your assistance. I can tell just by looking at you that you would understand, that you of all people could help me find my way back to color again."

Taking a deep breath, Karen stopped. Could this woman possibly know the depth of the void in her own life? The way all words had stopped for her a year ago, on the day her six year old daughter Katie ran into the path of an oncoming car. From that day forward, nothing but darkness had existed in Karen's heart and mind, a darkness far removed from this woman's surrealistic world of white.

Karen stared down at the slightly gnarled fingers wrapped tightly around her wrist. This was the hand that had written some of the most touching poetry Karen had ever read, poetry that blossomed in her spirit and allowed it to soar. Was it possible that together they could restore a small bit of the vibrancy that had been snatched from their lives?

Sensing Karen's acquiescence, a sigh of relief escaped from the older woman's lips. "Thank you," she said softly. "I can't tell you how pleased I am. Now, let me fix you a cup of tea," she said, turning to leave the room. "I have something special that has been waiting for just the right moment, and I believe this could be it."

Within moments, she had returned carrying a large white lacquer tray, a lace cloth draped smoothly over it. Karen's eye was drawn immediately to two bright red cups with gold handles, set smartly on matching saucers.

"When I disposed of all my colored china, I set this red tea service aside," Sylvia said. "I suppose I was hopeful that someday a bit of brightness would return to my world."

Setting the tray on the coffee table, she smiled and gently touched Karen's hand. "Perhaps I must reinstate the color into life myself," she said, "not wait for someone or something else to do it for me."

She offered Karen the brightly colored cup, curls of fragrant steam rising from its rim. "Please," she said. "Join me."

Friday, June 8, 2007

Sunday Scribblings-Spicy

"This should spice up our lives, don't you think?"

Petra gazed in disbelief at Danny's face, barely visible beneath the tinted visor of his helmet. The rumbling engine of the motorcycle he cradled between his knees couldn't drown out the excitement in his voice as he gazed up at her with a Cheshire cat smile. Petra shook her head in amazement. It'll certainly spice up yours, she thought ruefully, imagining him cruising down Michigan Avenue on Saturday nights, meeting friends at Diego's Roadhouse or the Blue Martini, while she sat home curled up with the cat and her knitting.

With a flick of his wrist, Danny gunned the engine and whirled off down the driveway. Petra watched him tooling happily down the blacktop lane, heading toward the highway from the converted barn they had renovated during their 15 years of marriage. She had to admit, since she and Danny had finally finished the work on the barn, it seemed as if life was a little dull. They worked so well together, everything from sketching plans to painting to laying ceramic tile in the master bathroom. There was a constant sense of excitement in the air, finishing one project and going on to the next.

Petra wandered through the house admiring again the fruits of their partnership. The dark oak floors, sanded to a satiny finish, the high cross beams arcing overhead, her shiny kitchen, illuminated by a skylight over the worktop. Danny had paid particular attention to that, and to the bay window in the front room, knowing how she adored sunlight.

Sighing, Petra peered out that bay window, trying not to admit that she was already missing him, wishing he were home with her instead of roaring around alone on a motorcycle. She had been so sure they wouldn't be one of those couples that grew apart after years of marriage. Yet, perhaps it took more than a common interest in renovation to make a marriage exciting. Maybe something fresh was needed to add a dash of spice to their relationship, Petra thought. But couldn't it have been something a little more inviting - like ballroom dancing or even birdwatching?

With a sigh, Petra turned toward the kitchen to start dinner. If he wants spice, then spice he'll get, she thought, remembering some chorizio in the freezer that would make a nice hot pasta sauce. She stopped short at the kitchen door, catching her reflection in a deep purple metallic helmet propped against on the black granite counter top. She pulled the pink sticky note off the visor.

"Pet, this one's for you, and its your favorite color too.
Riding won't be any fun unless you're sitting behind me.

Almost gingerly, Petra lifted the helmet from the counter. Reflected in the smoky visor, she took stock of her heart shaped face, her high forehead camouflaged with wispy bangs, her dark hair tucked neatly behind her ears. "Not really the face you'd imagine for a motorcycle mama, is it? But then again," she thought, tugging the helmet securely over her head, "variety is the spice of life!"

Hearing the distant rumble of the Harley engine, already recognizable even to her untrained ear, Petra strode purposefully toward the porch, ready to join her partner in a brand new project.

Monday, June 4, 2007

A Matter of Character-Part III

Once you've created your character (s) with all of his or her idiosyncrasies, how do you reveal these important traits, making them evident to the reader with only words?

Character can be revealed through straight narrative, and sometimes that's the most effective way. Diana Lee placed herself backstage where she could keep an eye on Ashleigh during her performance. Her black skirt grazed the top of her flat ballerina slippers as she stood in the familiar singer's pose - feet six inches apart, right foot slightly forward. Her long hair, undone from it's usual tortoise shell barrette, swept down and across her broad shoulders. Ashleigh was Diana Lee's top student, and had an excellent chance of winning this competition. If only she remained focused, and didn't allow her nerves to get the best of her.

Or, you can use a combination of action, speech, thought, and appearance to create a sense of depth in the story as you reveal aspects of your character. "In real life," Reissenweber writes, we experience people in a variety of ways, often simultaneously, and mixing the methods re-creates this sense of reality." Diana Lee stood backstage, her broad shoulders thrust back, her feet planted firmly six inches apart, watching closely as Ashleigh took her place alongside the pianist. Squinting through the thick lenses of her eyeglasses, Diana Lee peered intently at the tall, slender girl preparing to sing. "Stay focused, breathe, be passionate," she willed her thoughts toward her student. "You have what it takes to win it all, and you'd better not screw it up!"

You can also use a discrepancy in these elements to reveal conflicting aspects of your character's personality. The judge greeted Diana Lee with an effusive smile, and possessively took Diana's Lee hand in both of her own. "How thrilled you must be with her performance," she gushed. Diana Lee narrowed her eyes slightly at the woman, yet smiled warmly in return. "Yes, of course I'm so pleased," she answered, turning away as soon as politely possible. "You quack," she thought in distaste. "You wouldn't know a good soprano from a frog in a pond!"
In her article, Character: Casting Shadow, from the Gotham Writers Workshop Guide to Writing FIction, Brandi Reissenweber cautions the writer not to "go overboard" in revealing details about your characters. "Every character detail you use in your fiction should serve to advance or enhance the story you're telling."

Lastly, Reissenweber mentions the role of name choice in revealing character. "Names are like the wrapping on a present," she states, "offering just a hint of what's inside the person." I chose the name Diana Lee for my character to portray her dramatic, "diva-esque" nature.

Obviously, a great deal of thought and practice goes into creating the kinds of characters a reader will care about, identify with, or even love to hate!